PetSmart Charities Thought Innovator Award: Dr. Nicole Sugden

Dr. Nicole Sugden with her furry friend Finnley

Dr. Nicole Sugden, a postdoctoral fellow at the Infant Studies Centre, has received the Thought Innovator Award from PetSmart Charities of Canada, one of the nation’s leading funders of animal welfare and the human animal bond.

This support will fund Dr. Nicole Sugden’s research on the influence of pet dogs on infants’ early language and socio-communicative development.

Together with Dr. Janet Werker, Dr. Sugden’s study is examining how having a pet dog in the home of an infant may contribute to enhanced linguistic and communicative abilities of 2- to 7-month-olds.

Dr.Sugden is using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) – a safe and baby-friendly technique for measuring brain activity – to measure 2- to 7-month-old infants’ brain responses to both human and dog vocalizations; she is also measuring the extent to which the infants will follow a point or an eye gaze to share a moment of attention with an adult, an index of their social-communicative flexibility.


A 6-month-old baby girl and her mom participating in one of Nicole’s fNIRS studies

Join the PetSmart BabySmart study!

Dr. Sugden is still recruiting young families to participate in her study. If you would like to participate with your infant, please sign up and be contacted by the Early Development Research Group.

About Dr. Sugden
Sugden received her PhD in Psychology from Ryerson University and joined our Centre as a postdoctoral fellow in January 2017.  In her doctoral research, she examined infants’ natural and diverse daily face experience and how this experience shapes the development of their (i) attention to faces, (ii) ability to tell the difference between faces, and (iii) brain responses to different types of faces [using electroencephalography (EEG), another safe and baby-friendly way to measure brain activity].

We are very pleased that Nicole has brought her expertise to our Centre and we look forward to the results of her PetSmart BabySmart study. Please join us in congratulating her!